On February 11th and 12th, many people traveled far and wide to see the Westminster Kennel Club Show at Madison Square Garden. There, they watched about 3,000 dogs compete to move on to the Best in Show competition. Those dogs are organized by their breeds into groups: hound, toy, non-sporting, sporting, working, herding, and terrier. However, is breeding dogs to meet predetermined standards the same as eugenics?
The definition of eugenics is “the science of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable inheritable characteristics.” In recent world history, the practice of eugenics has been used to breed out traits considered undesirable. Eugenics’ popularity waned after World War II where the Nazis exterminated humans who they considered inferior. Since then, eugenics is considered ethically questionable and any sort of genetic engineering is heavily regulated. But there is one area where eugenics is not only accepted, but is encouraged: dog shows.
The Westminster Dog Show is an extremely popular event where individuals breed and show their dogs with hopes to win awards based on the dogs’ appearance. Every year, numerous breeds of dogs compete for the best in their category and the ultimate title of Best in Show. This year’s 2019 Best in Show award was given to a Fox Terrier named King.
Often when dogs are bred to repeat certain traits, they end up with some type of disorder. These genetic defects can be heart disease, joint and bone problems, epilepsy, and other severe conditions, depending on the breed. They usually come from breeding dogs too closely related. For instance, breeding two dogs who are cousins since they both have the traits you want to see more of.
With dogs’ health at risk, why do people find it acceptable to implement the practice of eugenics on dogs? Who cares if your dog has perfectly tipped ears if it ends up having hip dysplasia? Why is this not considered dog eugenics and regulated as it is for humans? Overall, breeding out any sort of trait in any species puts its physical health at risk, which is why no creature should be bred selectively.